Monday, October 5, 2020

Kuji Castle -Castle lost in time-

Kuji Castle

-Castle lost in time-



Name: Kuji Castle (Kuji-jo)
Place: Okawame-cho Kuji city, Iwate
Location: 40.19383730182795, 141.71101773083257
Type: Hill Castle
Built: 14th century?
Remaining remnants: Clay walls and dry moats 

Brief History

Kuji castle (久慈城) is located at a triangle shaped hill of 30 meter height, at the inside of the valley of Kuji-gawa river goes upstream 5 kilometer from river mouth. Kuji area is a town locates at the north part of Sanriku-Kaigan coast, a 600 kilometer long ria coast spreads from south part of current Iwate prefecture to north part of current Miyagi prefecture.

Kuji area has a relatively wide flat area formed by four rivers, then had large population at Sanriku-Kaigan coast next to Ishinomaki area and Hachinohe area. In addition to its agricultural production, as each river is used as roads from external area, it works as a regional hub between coast area and inland area.

Kuji area is known for its production of amber, and amber produced at Kuji area was far away sent to central capitals of central Japan such as Heijo-kyo or Heian-kyo. In medieval era iron production of iron sand later became the source of Nanbu iron products, and recently known for Ama (skin diving fisherwomen) at north limit.

Origin of Kuji castle and Kuji clan

Precise year is unknown but Kuji castle might be built by local lord Kuji clan. Kuji clan was a branch family of Nanbu clan, which was the retainer of Kamakura Shogunate originally lived at Kai province (Yamanashi prefecture) and became the local lord of north part of Iwate prefecture and Aomori prefecture.

As the territory of Nanbu clan was a vast hilly area separated into valleys, Nanbu clan divided into branch families managed each territory. Main family of Nanbu clan stayed at Sannohe area, and branch families spread to Ichinohe area, Sannohe area, Kunohe area, Shichinohe area or Hachinohe area.

Shichinohe clan which had the territory at the north edge of Nanbu clan also held Kuji area, but as Shichinohe area and Kuji area were over 100 kilometer apart, thus Kuji clan had divested from Shichinohe clan and became independent local lord. Kuji clan managed Kuji area over 200 years from 13th century to 15th century, and Kuji castle might be built during this time.

Structure of Kuji castle

Kuji castle spreads over a triangle shaped hill of about 300 meter long and 200 meter wide. Central area of the castle is a flat triangle terrace of 70 meter long and 50 meter wide, which might have the hilltop residence of the lord. At the north of central area, ahead of a dry moat, small terrace protected backward of the castle.

At the east of central area, secondary area and third area both are about 50 meter long spreads along with the ridge of the hill. At the east edge of the castle, there is a dry moat which separates the castle hill from outside, and a ruin of the well exists drains to creeks. On the south slope of these core areas, layers of long and narrow terraces are built to protect front side of the castle.

Outside of castle hill, two creeks flow the both side of the castle like a natural water moat. Inside of these two creeks there remains the name of riding place, but there might be the residence of major retainers. At the west of the castle there remains Jikoji temple, a clan temple of Kuji clan, and about 200 meter east there might be a hillside residence of Kuji clan.

Growth of Kuji clan

In the middle of 15th century, Kuji clan did not have successor then adopted the people of main family of Nanbu clan then continued. Kuji clan grew a local lord of Kunohe providence. In the middle of 16th century, Tamenobu Oura (1550-1608) who is said as a person of Kuji clan was adopted by Oura clan at Hirosaki area of Aomori prefecture, and later left Nanbu clan and became an independent lord Tsugaru clan.

At this time Kuji clan held relationship with Kunohe clan, the major branch family of Nanbu clan which held current Ninohe area, at the next of the territory of Kuji clan. Kunohe clan grew their power under marital relationship with surrounding branch families of Nanbu clan and became an influential family equal to the main family of Nanbu clan.

After the death of Harumasa Nanbu (1517-1582) who brought peak period to Nanbu clan in 1582 and his son Harutsugu Nanbu (1570-1582) at that year, there arouse conflict between two brothers in law of Harumasa, Nobunao Nanbu (1546-1599) who came from Ishikawa clan and Sanechika Kunohe (1542-1591) who was the younger brother of Masazane Kunohe (1536-1591).

Rebel of Masazane Kunohe

Nobunao Nanbu forcibly succeeded the leader of Nanbu clan, but Masazane Kunohe strongly dissatisfied with this decision and insisted as the leader of Nanbu clan. In 1590, Nobunao Nanbu was approved as the leader of Nanbu clan from central ruler Hideyoshi Toyotomi (1537-1598), and changed the treatment of Kunohe clan from colleague to retainer of Nanbu clan.

In 1591, Masazane Kunohe finally raised his army at his base Kunohe castle (Iwate prefecture) against Nobunao Nanbu, and Naoharu Kuji (?-1591), who accepted Masanori Kunohe (?-?), the younger brother of Masazane Kunohe, as an adopted son, accompanied with Kunohe clan. Kunohe army was a strong troop of Nanbu clan broke various enemies, and Kunohe clan once overwhelmed Nobunao Nanbu.

But Nobunao Nanbu asked assistance to central ruler Hideyoshi Toyotomi, and to protect the authority of Toyotomi government Hideyoshi sent huge army of 60,000 soldiers to Kunohe clan. Masazane Kunohe besieged at his main base Kunohe castle (Iwate prefecture), but after four days battle gave up the resistance and surrendered.

End of Kuji clan and afterward

Masazane Kunohe and his colleagues including Naoharu Kuji were sent to Kurihara area of current Miyagi prefecture and executed. Majority of Kuji clan were also involved in the battle and died at Kunohe castle, but branch family of Kuji clan which belonged to Nobunao Nanbu remained as a small lord. Kuji castle was abolished by castle destruction throughout Nanbu territory in 1592.

Today no building remains but structure of the castle completely remain on the hill. Castle site is well preserved by the effort of local residents, and keeps clear appearance not covered by bush. It convey the feeling that the time had stopped since the moment when it lost the lord, and the imagination people will start to move again when the spell is lifted.


30 minutes drive from Hachinohe Jidoshado Expressway Kunohe interchange via Route 340 and Route 281.

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Pictures (click to enlarge)

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